USDA announces $667 million in rural broadband funding

The US Department of Agriculture announced nearly $700 million in funding Monday to expand high-speed broadband access in rural communities across the country.

The USDA’s ReConnect Program is providing $667 million in grants and loans for broadband projects in 22 states and the Marshall Islands in areas that lack access to speeds of at least 100Mbps down and 20Mbps up. Recipients of this funding will be required to build out infrastructure capable of providing upload and download speeds of 100Mbps, surpassing the Federal Communications Commission’s current speed minimums of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up. 

“The reality is, we have faced some challenging times in rural places”

“The reality is, we have faced some challenging times in rural places, and this is a president who believes strongly in ensuring that investments are made in all parts of the country from the most-populated urban centers to the most remote rural places,” USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a call with reporters Friday.

The USDA received this funding from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which included $65 billion to expand access to affordable high-speed broadband and reach universal connectivity by 2030. 

Some of the USDA’s approved projects will help serve anywhere from just a few households to thousands, along with many businesses and farms. The Scott County Telephone Cooperative in Virginia is receiving one of the largest grants at $25 million, promising to connect more than 17,000 people, 1,018 businesses, 37 farms, and 49 educational facilities. On the smaller end, Wave Wireless in Iowa is receiving nearly $500,000 benefitting just 228 people, six businesses, and nearly 40 farms.

Since the bipartisan infrastructure package passed, the Biden administration has distributed billions of dollars to meet this goal. In June, the administration distributed more than $40 billion to states based on need, with every state receiving at least $100 million. The Affordable Connectivity Program, also authorized under the law, received $14.2 billion to extend a covid pandemic-era subsidy lowering the cost of internet packages by $30 a month or $75 on tribal lands.

Speaking with reporters Friday, Vilsack said that Monday’s broadband funding will also support farmers accessing emerging tech to help lower greenhouse gas emissions and remove carbon. 

“We are as an administration focused on expanding significantly opportunities for farmers to have more and new and better markets,” Vilsack said. “To do that is going to require a lot of technology that will absolutely depend on high-speed internet access.”

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Makena Kelly